by Andy Peloquin
Anytime talk of "villains" and "antagonists" comes up, authors will wax poetic about the importance of complex villains. This means that giving villains plausible motivations, redeeming qualities, and "good" traits makes them more realistic and less like the moustache-twirling, evil-laughing baddies from older literature.
I like to take things a step further. Instead of relying on these mechanisms to paint my villain in a more sympathetic light, I prefer to flip things on their head and turn the more traditional "villains" into the "heroes" of my novels. Well, perhaps I should say the protagonists/main characters…
Take, for example, my dark fantasy series The Last Bucelarii. In the first novel, Blade of the Destroyer, I introduced "the Hunter of Voramis", a ruthless, relentless, immortal assassin. He drops four bodies in the first chapter, and the first few chapters of the book showcase his cynicism and coldness toward people in general and his victims/targets in specific. Later in the book, it's discovered that he is a half-demon. Killer, demon: these are two words you'll usually find associated with the VILLAIN of any story.
So how did I turn a half-demon assassin into a "hero"? Well, let's be clear: it's an anti-hero, which Wikipedia defines as " a protagonist who lacks conventional heroic qualities such as idealism, courage, or morality." Think the Punisher, Deadpool, or Judge Dredd. These characters aren't "heroes", in that they stand for justice, virtue, and righteousness, but they have some heroic traits that keep them out of the realm of "villains".
Reading the first chapter of Blade of the Destroyer, you see the Hunter's casual attitude toward death, and his callous disregard for human life--both villain traits. But in the second chapter, you see the Hunter interacting with beggars, lepers, and other outcasts he's befriended and actually sort of "protected". All of a sudden, there's a bit of humanity to this villainous character.
A few chapters later, you're introduced to a child he saved from dying years before. This child actually looks forward to talking with him, and he has a bond with her. Enter a few more humanizing traits.
Slowly, through the course of the book, the traditional villainous elements become minimized while his humanity comes through. He fights to protect the innocent, proves he has moral guidelines he will not break, overcomes personal difficulty, and makes the "right" choice when given an opportunity. All of these things drag him firmly out of the realm of "villain" and into the more heroic realm. He walks the fine line between villain and hero in the morally grey realm of anti-heroes.
I've LOVED every minute of writing this character. It's a challenge to see how far from "hero" he can stray without actually becoming a proper "villain". It requires regular reminders of his humanity (strengths, weaknesses, flaws, failings, successes, and desires), as well as showing that ultimately, he is going to make the right choice (even at great personal cost). By using the "heroic" traits—few as they may be—to paint him in a positive light, you can connect with him, identify with him, and ultimately root for him. A villain becomes a sort-of hero, a character you want to succeed!
Own your copy of Peloquin's Blade of the Destroyer: The Last Bucelarii Book 1
I am, first and foremost, a storyteller and an artist—words are my palette. Fantasy is my genre of choice, and I love to explore the darker side of human nature through the filter of fantasy heroes, villains, and everything in between. I'm also a freelance writer, a book lover, and a guy who just loves to meet new people and spend hours talking about my fascination for the worlds I encounter in the pages of fantasy novels.
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